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A Neil Walker reunion could make sense for the Mets

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The former Met could be a productive and affordable option at second base.

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at New York Mets Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

With Asdrubal Cabrera likely starting at third base for them in 2018, the Mets need to make a decision about second. One possible—and compelling—option would be a familiar face in Neil Walker.

Walker was productive in each of his two years in New York. In 2016, the second baseman hit an impressive .282/.347/.476 (122 wRC+), with 23 home runs, 55 RBIs, 57 runs scored, and 3.7 fWAR. He followed that up by hitting a solid .264/.339/.442 (108 wRC+), with 10 homers, 36 RBIs, 40 runs, and 1.4 fWAR in 73 games before the Mets traded him to the Brewers last August. Walker finished the season with a .265/.362/.439 (114 wRC+) line and 2.1 fWAR, while adding four home runs, 13 RBIs, and 19 runs scored during his time in Milwaukee.

Walker’s strengths are obvious. By adjusted stats like wRC+ and OPS+, he’s been an above-average hitter in each of his eight full big league seasons. That type of consistent offensive production is rare for a player at any position, much less at second base.

While the defensive metrics don’t love his glovework, they haven’t badly reduced his overall value: By fWAR, Walker has consistently hovered around the two-to-four-win mark throughout his career. Again, most teams would be thrilled to get that level of production from their second basemen year in and year out.

What makes Walker a particularly attractive option to the Mets is his potential affordability. MLB Trade Rumors projects a two-year, $20 million contract for the second baseman, while Fangraphs’s Dave Cameron predicts $33 million over three years. Either one of those contracts seems eminently reasonable for a productive starting second baseman with Walker’s track record.

Walker looks like an even better option when you consider the alternatives. Both Trade Rumors and Fangraphs list Walker as the best available free agent second baseman. The other candidates include somewhat underwhelming names like Eduardo Nunez, Howie Kendrick, and Brandon Phillips. Internally, the Mets could turn to some combination of Wilmer Flores, T.J. Rivera, and Gavin Cecchini, while potentially pursuing a reunion with Jose Reyes. None of those options, however, would inspire a great deal of confidence in a team looking to compete in 2018.

The downsides of signing Walker stem from his age and recent injury history. The infielder is 32 years old and lost more than 40 games to injuries in each of the last two seasons. That doesn’t project very well going forward, and is likely why Walker’s contract projections are so modest.

Even if Walker only plays 100 to 120 games a year, the Mets appear to have enough cheap infield depth to fill out the rest of the season while getting strong overall production from the second base position. Given Walker’s track record, potential affordability, and recent success in New York, he seems like as obvious a target as any for the Mets to pursue this winter.